Louisville and life

Note: this post talks about the death of a friend – just a heads up.

Life is a mosaic, and Monday was one of those days that had all the pieces of it: the mundane, the fun, the profoundly sorrowful.

There were little moments of gratitude for things that work. One of my children woke up with what was clearly pink-eye. As a veteran parent, I could easily diagnose this, and I know it is no big deal, but it still means a kid is home from school and needs to get treated. I had to leave for the airport by 8:30 a.m. to go to Louisville to give a speech that night. Fortunately, my husband has this virtual doctor service through work, and we got the phone propped up against a box of Lucky Charms, so a physician sitting in his own living room could take a look at my kid’s eye. The prescription was called in, and G could go pick it up. I got to the airport on time.

The flight was quick and landed early. My driver took me to downtown Louisville where I was then picked up at my hotel by a gray minivan driven by none other than Anne Bogel.

Longtime readers know I am a big fan of Modern Mrs. Darcy. I have been reading the blog for years. Anne was a guest on Best of Both Worlds a few months ago, and I was a guest on What Should I Read Next? as well. We’d exchanged emails and blog comments (and she has graciously written about my books) for years, but I had never met her in person.

Louisville provided the chance. She was delightful. We had coffee and talked about the workings of the Modern Mrs. Darcy empire, and her next book projects (including an exciting book of essays coming out this fall) and mine. Alas, neither of us thought to take a photo, so you’re just going to have to take my word about it. I had been much looking forward to this get-together, and was thrilled it happened.

I went back to the hotel for 45 minutes to get ready for an appearance on WHAS (the Louisville ABC affiliate). As I was sitting there waiting to be interviewed, the anchor was giving updates about the helicopter crash in NYC. My husband and I had talked about this crash for a long time the night before — we were both so disturbed by it. We used to live right by the East River, and I ran by the heliport every day. It had struck me as such a horrible way to go, trapped and sinking in an icy river. But then the anchor soon moved on, in the way local news goes, to talking about my appearance that night at Norton Healthcare’s Go Confidently speaker series. I did my best to drum up interest in the event. Then I took off to go to the event itself.

I was reading my email in the back of the car when I got a message that took my breath away.

For many years, I was the president of the board of directors of the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus in NYC. I stepped back when kid #4 was born, and we eventually handed the reigns over to a very capable and energetic young man who had great ideas for the choir.

A mutual friend sent me a note: he had been on that helicopter, and now he was gone.

There is no good way to describe this — just the kick in the gut feeling when you learn someone wonderful has died senselessly. I spent the next hour as I was in the green room obsessively reading headlines about the accident. The memories come back in the way they do. He had a gorgeous baritone voice. I remember him singing the solo at the start of “Stomp Your Foot” from Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land. Stomp your foot upon the floor! Just ringing out into the audience, a voice that seemed to bring in spring. Throw the windows open! He was funny too. At one point I’d been recounting some shade I had gotten for being pregnant with kid #3 (two being the acceptable replacement number). He joked that he wasn’t planning on having kids, so it could be like a carbon trading scheme and I could have his kid credits.

I have been picturing the choir coming to practice as they do on Tuesdays and trying to sing through it together. As our director said, thank God there is music because there are no words.

So I was obsessively thinking through all this when it was time to go out and speak to 400 people about how to manage their time. In moments like this, I am acutely aware that time management does not seem like a profound topic. We are spinning on an improbable planet in the middle of cold space. A young man with a rich and enthusiastic voice gets on a helicopter and a few hours later is being cut out of his harness. And here I am talking about turning a 30-minute meeting into a 20-minute one.

Yet one of the questions at the end got me thinking about this. Someone asked me which was my favorite book — a bit like asking about one’s favorite kid — but I noted that I Know How She Does It most explicitly gets at the message I am always trying to share when I am up on stage. I wrote IKHSDI because there are many forces in the world that try to convince women in particular to limit their aspirations, but the truth is that the busy-busy-busy message limits everyone. Maybe it’s not about a traditional family per se, but the message of never having enough time can keep people from thinking they can nurture their artistic aspirations while also making a living. It keeps them from thinking they can lead a community non-profit while being a dedicated friend to so many people too. And if people think these things, then the world will miss out on their gifts.

While I do believe we have more time than we think in the day to day march of life, life is ultimately short. Sometimes it is tragically short but even when it is long, we only have so much of it. Part of getting a grasp on time is being able to use our time to achieve what we feel called to do in our short time on earth. Whatever that calling happens to be. Men, women, anyone.

So I spoke of this. And then it was back home, back to the mundane details of daily existence, mundane details that seem more poignant whenever we are reminded of how fragile they are. The eye drops. Stomping around with the 3-year-old. Throw the windows open. Take a breath of fresh June air and dance around the room…as I keep hearing that voice so full of life.

Note: you can read the choir’s statement about the loss on their Facebook page.

20 thoughts on “Louisville and life

  1. In our tradition, we say “May their memory be eternal” when someone dies. You’ve written a beautiful tribute to your friend

    1. @Calee – Thank you. I like that phrase of memory being eternal. We’ve sung a few requiem type songs in that choir and I remember Tarik O’Regan’s “As We Remember Them” that we all sang together. “So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are part of us, as we remember them.”

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. I was thinking a lot about time last week myself. My 43-year-old cousin died quickly and unexpectedly of complications from flu and pneumonia. She was a vibrant and healthy person, and this was basically inconceivable. For several days time felt unstable — passing fast and dragging — like it was flexing around me. Shock, perhaps? But also an awful reminder (like the one you’re experiencing) that time is definitely not a given. Sending you peace.

  3. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. you have such a talent. I admire your ability to put feelings and big concepts into words- it is healing for those of us who are reading and have had similar experiences. It reminds us that we are not alone in our feelings and that big losses happen to everyone.
    Sending my love and prayers to you and to the family and friends of Aaron Copland.

    1. @Angela – Copland was the composer whose song my friend sang – sorry if that was unclear! I didn’t put his name in the body of the post because I am conscious of the blog coming up if people search for his name, and I don’t want to interfere with any official statements being put out about it.

  4. So sorry for your loss, and how heartbreaking. I think I have always been drawn to time and DON’T consider it trivial, because really in the end it’s all we have. Hours become days become years become lives. Nothing trivial about any of it ❤️

  5. I have been reading your blog for years. This post is what it’s all about. That our hours matter. Our small, minute to minute, choices matter. I am thankful for you changing the mantra of busy-busy-busy for me and for so many women. Life is too short to be busy. I have a lot to contribute— parenting is one major part of that—but I have more. Grateful for your voice and passion to inspire women to live big and bold lives.

    1. @Sarah – thanks (and to all the commenters!) Yes, minutes and hours add up to lives and that is why I want people to reject the busy-busy narrative and appreciate that they do have time for whatever matters to them.

  6. Oh, Laura — I’m sorry to hear this. It is odd how the small details of managing life and the big issues (life, death) intersect, and this post brings the ways that happens together beautifully.

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss, Laura! A friend of mine’s 4 year-old died suddenly last fall after a short battle with cancer. A profound loss, that makes it difficult to wrap your head around. I think you hit the nail on the head that life is in the mundane details. As an occupational therapist, I have worked with many people suviving devastating illnesses and accidents. Almost without fail, they want to get back to the mundane details of life. I hope you feel very good about helping people make the most of their time. Your books and podcasts have been lifechanging for me… always reminding me to make the most of everyday!

  8. So sorry about the sudden loss of your friend. It’s always sobering when we receive a reminder of the fragility and fleeting nature of life.

    I have a blogging friend in Louisville who attended your talk, and she liked it very much, and shared some of your tips on her blog. I’m always impressed with the practicality of your advice, and I’m looking forward to your new book.

  9. Losing anyone you have a relationship with is difficult, something I’m aware of after being a funeral director for 38 years. I’m sorry for your loss.
    You wrote: ‘Part of getting a grasp on time is being able to use our time to achieve what we feel called to do in our short time on earth. Whatever that calling happens to be.’
    This really resonated with me as a basic or first question you could ask yourself when planning any part of your life.
    An interesting aspect is the part, ‘Part of getting a grasp on time…’
    Having just finished, enjoyed and used, 168 Hours, I wonder if this could be the basis of another book, ‘All the parts of getting a grasp on time’? Though, now I think about it, that subject is covered in 168 Hours. Thank you for writing it. I’ve found it extremely useful.

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